Here’s a little something to stir into your morning Cheerios; a little bulk of soccer knowledge to fiber up your day:
I know that Olympic qualifying against the regional “minnows” might seem like so much formality. The United States’ group includes Cuba (up first tonight), El Salvador and Canada. (A good primer on regional Olympic qualifying is here.)
The region’s other power, Mexico, has Honduras, Panama and Trinidad-Tobago in Group B to swat away. Or so it would seem.
The top pair from each group advances into the tournament semifinals. In all honesty, the shock meter would register “massive” if the United States or Mexico doesn’t move into the all-important semis. And yet, danger does exist.
Upsets can and have happened before in this tournament. Quite recently, in fact. Just ask the United States. Or Mexico.
In 2004, Mexico and Costa Rica qualified for the Athens games out of the CONCACAF region. See who’s missing there? The U.S. under-23 side ran up against Mexico during qualifying and came out on the wrong side of a 4-0 whuppin. You might recognize a few names from that American team: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman, for instance.
In 2008, it was Mexico’s turn to wet the CONCACAF bed. In this case, the young El Tri didn’t even make it out of group play. Guatemala and Canada emerged, leaving Mexico to deal with the ugly and embarrassing aftermath. (By the way, those 2008 group matches happened on the very same Home Depot Center field where Friday night’s Group B matches take place.)
More recent still, the U.S. under-20 side failed to emerge just over a year ago from regional qualifying for the FIFA under-20 World Cup. In fact, several members of Caleb Porter’s current under-23 side were on the team that failed to qualify for Colombia 2011, a downfall that cost Thomas Rongen his position at U.S. Soccer. Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valentin, Amobi Okugo and Joe Gyau, now in Nashville with the U.S. under-23s, were members of Rongen’s would-be FIFA World Cup qualifier.